Hiking in the winter gives you a precious opportunity to marvel at the most spectacular snow-covered sights. However, we all know that it comes with its own set of dangers.

Presuming that you are already well aware of the precautions that you have to take and practical tips of the trade – namely now to use the equipment and how to set up camp under freezing conditions, it’d also be smart to take extra time to prepare your wardrobe for the undertaking. With that in mind, here’s what to wear for hiking in cold weather.

The golden range of layers

Let’s get one item out of the way first – you’ll need a cap, of course, possibly the one with ear flaps. You’ll want to protect your head, ears and the back of your neck as much as possible. You lose about 10% of your overall body heat through the head if it isn’t properly protected, and that goes even if you have a head-full of hair.

With that out of the way, you need to consider covering your abdomen with a set of layers. Chest and stomach area are especially important. The trick is to hit the exact golden range of layers that befits your needs without limiting your movement and, more importantly, causing profuse sweating. In any severely cold environment, sweating can be dangerous.

The best layering goes as follows – a nice, wick shirt, an airy material that is easy on the skin, then something thicker, equally airy – a thick wool sweater, for example, and a wind-proof jacket on top.  

The matter of feet

Along with the top of the head and mid-torso, feet are the most sensitive are you should be worried about in the freezing conditions. We rarely look at uncomfortable shoes as a health danger, but they can easily cause chronic problems which become hard to get rid of.

It can promote the creation of bunions, cause painful calluses and joint pain, and that’s without mentioning ickier stuff such as ingrown toenails and athlete’s foot. What you need is a pair of comfortable and flexible water-proof shoes and airy, wool socks that will keep your feet warm. The rest is up to the circulation as you wind up and keep marching uphill.

Easy access

You’ll need to secure easy access to the following items: a waterproof coat, a vest, and the above-mentioned jacket. The best strategy is to fold them outside the pack, harness them on the side of your rucksack or otherwise make them easily accessible – that’s because you’ll shuffle between them during your hike.

Let’s assume that, since you are cutting through the freezing wilderness, that you will change elevation quite a few times during your trip. This means that the temperature will change, as well as your subjective impression and sweating intensity.  

Things to avoid

As you are shuffling through your wardrobe, choosing the candidates for your winter clothing, there are several elements that you should eliminate from the onset, which will make matters somewhat easier and efficient.

First of all, you need to ignore cotton. While this ubiquitous material has been a faithful companion of humans since times immemorial, it has also always been notorious for taking a very long time to dry. As has been implied, this will lead you to feel chilly and, let’s be honest, completely miserable. Synthetics tend to dry faster and, as it has been mentioned as well, wool is your best candidate across the board!

Second, since we have mentioned synthetics, it wouldn’t go amiss to point out that tight clothing is also a bad choice. You’ll want to feel as you can move freely, and, indeed, some of the most elastic synthetic materials are also tight, but such quality is not what you are looking for from cold-weather clothes.

Why? It is a rather simple matter of biomechanics – tight materials cut-off circulation, which increases your chance of getting frostbite. Clothing and gear have to fit properly, for sure, but they also need to give you room to breathe. This might sound counterintuitive, all things considered, but this is what all the experts advise as well.


Humans are not only social and intellectual beings – there is a side to us that we often explore by embarking on adventures that have at least a modicum of peril. We rediscover ourselves by plunging head-first into the wilderness and surviving under harsh conditions. After all, we’ve thrived from such conditions and created civilization in the first place.

Hiking in freezing weather is just one example of how humans quench their thirst for adventure, and the assortment of tips above should give you, at the very least, a good broad idea of how you should prepare in terms of wardrobe. Only then will you be ready to conquer your next frontier.